Trying Really Really Hard

alex-kotliarskyi-361081-unsplashLast summer I planted a flower bed with an automatic irrigation system and my Dad and I put in a soaker hose that lives underground, right near the flowers. We attached it to the hose bib coming out of the house where the water comes out, and then ran it around all the plants. The problem was, it didn’t work very well for the plants at the top of the little hill it was on. They started to die and we couldn’t figure out why. Finally, my dad figured out that we had run it from the bottom of the little hill, up to the top. It had to work so hard to pump all that water uphill that it never made it to the top plants. So, we rearranged the hose and had it start at the top and just flow downhill, reaching every plant. Duh. Now everything’s growing and thriving.

So of course I latched onto that immediately as a great metaphor!

In our culture, and for some of us more than others of course, we are taught that if we try really really hard not only will we do better, but somehow either our bosses or God or the world or whatever you believe, will reward us for our hard work. This is the classic Puritanical value ingrained in us as Americans.

If you picture it from sort of a caveman point of view, it does make sense. Like, say if you run faster you might catch the animal, but even for a caveman sometimes throwing the spear harder just makes it fly in a slightly wrong direction and not hit its mark… which is kind of a great way to picture what we are doing in modern society. We think that if we are working working working then we will either make more and more and more money or be more and more and more successful in whatever way we value success.

Now, of course, if you have worked with me before, you know I am fairly adamant that we all take a look at what we think success means, and then try to shake off that belief to ensure that success actually means you’re happy rather than working toward some false success that won’t bring you happiness.

For example, if you think success means your parents approve of you, but you end up doing something that you don’t love to get their approval, well that’s not going to work for you in the long run. I’m sure you can think of a hundred examples of this, so just suffice to say, we need to look at what our values are here and now, and not what they used to be or what we’ve been trained to think they should be.

So back to the idea that working MORE or HARDER or for longer hours is the answer. There are tons of studies that show working too many hours makes you less efficient, meaning you actually get less done. “Harder”, “longer”, and “more” are not solutions. Doing things DIFFERENTLY. Now the answer might lie there.

It’s easy to see how trying hard, particularly in creative pursuits and improv in particular, doesn’t work and backfires. Let me tell you a secret: creativity is just totally averse to struggle. When you try incredibly hard and struggle, you create tension. The ideas won’t come, you’ll block yourself, you’ll get tense and you’re right brain will just shut down.

Plus nobody will want to work with you!

So learning that “harder is not better” is so incredibly important to a creative and successful life. And I imagine you’ve heard this idea before — but why is it so damn hard for us to believe it????

I mean, that’s really the problem. We just totally don’t believe it.

So how do we test this enough times so that we start to see the value of chilling the hell out and having more creative success?

Look, I promise, if you try to NOT overwork, you will eventually reinforce a new belief that chilling out actually works! You have to experience it to believe it though. If we start to see results, it will help us buy into it. So what we want is to make NOT struggling a habit.

Here are some ways to practice this:

1. Become a slacker.

You know, just for one day. Or one hour. Or one part of one project. Just try it out. I promise if you’re an overachiever you do NOT have to worry that this will become the new you. Seriously. You are not one 15-donut break away from being a loser.

Cut back. How many hours are you working? Anything over 50 hours a week should be questioned. I don’t care what field you’re in and I KNOW some of you are like, dude everyone in my office works 50 hours, but I’m here to be the one to question that. If you don’t have a life outside of work, if you are tired and don’t spend enough time socializing, those lifestyle choices could lead to a shortened life, and one filled with stress and less efficiency anyway. Just google it — (

There are studies showing that overworking leads to diabetes, depression, and higher employee turnover, which loses the company money. You make mistakes at work, can’t be as innovative, can’t see the big picture, you can become irritable, hard to work with, and on and on and on. I’m not here to argue it — just look it up.

So, if you’re working more than 50 hours a week, cut back NOW. It won’t get better tomorrow or maybe even in a week but I’m betting in a month you’ll see huge results and you’ll feel better. And if you can see that you’re more efficient, find a way to show your boss or coworkers that. This is a real “less is more” thing.

2. What in your home or your habits are like the soaker hose pushing all that water uphill when it could just be moved so it all flows easily down hill?

Look at these kinds of things:

-Driving your kids to school versus carpooling.

-Making the perfect dinner when a couple times a week you could totally get something premade — or better yet teach the kids to cook. Unless they are you know toddlers. Do not let your toddlers cook.

-Let’s see… there are a thousand things at work that could probably change for all of us. Systems! Look at your systems! In fact make a habit of every couple of months looking at your systems and seeing how you could work better, not harder.

-Get some outside advice. It’s so so hard to see what we’re doing that’s idiotic and inefficient. Ask a co worker or a friend or get a consultant.

-You know how personal trainers are always changing the routine. This isn’t just to stop boredom, it’s because your body adjusts and learns to sort of cheat and make it easier so you don’t get the same workout. You won’t get stronger or more fit by just doing MORE of the same thing. You have to change it periodically.

3. Think about if you actually ENJOY struggling. Does it make you proud? Do you feel vindicated on some level? Seriously though, answering the question “WHY are you overworking” is just as important as the fact that you are pushing harder and harder and getting nowhere. You gotta look at why. This will help you understand it and make changes.

So, stop struggling. You’ll be more fun to be with, you’ll be happier, you’ll be healthier, you’ll have better innovative ideas, more creativity, you’ll actually get more done that matters and you’ll have more energy and ideas.

Put a note in your calendar for a week from now and ask yourself if you’re still overworking or pushing too hard. Then cut back, slack, push less water up the hill and just turn that thing around and let it run easily down hill.


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